corga diary

Fire   Fire  !

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As i write ( its early September ) I am sitting on our veranda overlooking the mountain , a mist of morning fog lifting up from the valley below, the first gentle rains of the year have finally arrived, everybody has been waiting for the fire “season” to stop, time for reflection , and time for action.

 

On the evening of the 16th of June we were sitting here in the same spot with the same panoramic view only the whole horizon is red. The fire season has begun, well it comes every year (we have the perfect conditions for summer fires ) , the next day we woke to no view at all, just smoke, then the fire came…., it stayed for 11 days , returning to the farm 6 times from different directions ,fuelled by the strong winds, each time taking more buildings, more trees, more structures , in the end we were left with the main house and a small green oasis thanks to the local fire fighters, joined also by fire fighters from Spain, France , Morocco and Italy who managed  16 helicopter and 4 plane drops to  save the house,

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Everything else gone and black, 4 buildings and all their contents, various out buildings, animal houses, hundreds of fruit and nut trees, water tanks , piping, tools ,a tractor , ect,,

 

I spoke to a friend recently who had escaped this fire, but is fearful of the next , she said “ id rather the fire took my house than my garden, the house I can rebuild quick , but to replace trees and plants,, I will not see them back in my life time” I agree with her sentiment, she has been developing her gardens for 30 years and I only 10.

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The last time I checked (and fires are still burning) the figure was more than 160,000 hectares burned across Portugal, but fires also burning in France and across Europe, the US and even the arctic tundra of Greenland….its something that is going to get worse .

 

Fire is a natural event occurring in nature, usually lighting strikes on the ridges start fires with trees that have evolved to use the fire to propagate themselves and extend their range a bit, species like eucalyptus and pine who rely on the heat to release their seeds, unfortunately the statistics say over 90% of fires are manmade, arson, discarded cigarette, insurance claim, etc etc..

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In a fire prone area (as we are ) you can expect a catastrophic  fire every 20 -30 years (the one we have just experienced here) ,the worst fire on record with many deaths and loss of property and land) with annual fires increasing  until that event, the more it burns the more it burns.

 

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Also not talked about much is the huge loss of wildlife, mammals, birds, insects, the soil and its lifeforms. Along with the mycelium. Who knows how long and even if we can replace what we have lost, one thing is for sure is that it is a pattern, a cycle that can be broken or changed

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“A lot can be done to change that cycle. Advantage can be gained if it can be delayed even one period. The less it burns the less likely it is to burn, because there will be more humus and more moisture incorporated into the site. On the other hand the more it burns ,the more likely  it is to burn again soon. This is because fire removes a lot of moisture –retaining humus and kills a lot more than it consumes, resulting in a fire prone litter build up “  ( Bill Mollison)

 

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Rebuild…

So after a period of reflection, observation and decision making, we have realized that to be able to stay here we have to have a seriously implemented design for fire. We have been working on this with the help of Nuno Mamede and Terra crua environmental design. We have a blank canvas now so must look at the problem as the solution, an opportunity….its interesting to see that our aims remain the same before and after the fire.to show an example of how we can  …….here is the first map layout for re design —

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At this stage we would like to express our deepest gratitude to all the people who were there for us during the fire , who came to check if we were ok, who donated materials, money, trees, physical help and advice, it was overwhelming and reinstated our faith in humanity and gave us the strength to restart and rebuild again.

 

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Over the years I have learned to accept help, something I was stubborn to do in the past, but have found it is better to give with compassion and receive with joy, in fact as Charles Eisenstein  explains a gift economy was how we once  conducted our selves in times past and will have to in the future.

 

Key factors are –

  • Erosion

Our immediate concern is the onset of winter rains, which are often very heavy, so we need to do some earth moving, redesigning the tracks with a 2% slope into the hillside to gently collect the rain and take it to swale systems.

 

We need to –

 

Create more terraces and swales,

 

Place burned trees on contour to check erosion from hill sides

 

Broadcast soil holding seeds and plant fire break trees and shrubs

 

  • Water storage –

 

We need to —

 

Build 40,000 L ferrocement tank with 2” pipework

 

Install roof collection to another 20,000 L tank

 

Place stainless steel piping and sprinklers onto all roofs

 

Create more ponds and wet areas

 

 

After first rains plant out fire resistant trees and shrubs.

 

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The 4th permaculture design course  here at corga da pereira…………..

Wow what a great time had, 16 days of full on, hands on, productive, fun and learning, with an amazing bunch of folk from 9 different countries, each with their own story and experience to offer. All it appeared apparent to me, to want to be the change they want to see in the world , so wonderful to meet these people who have already made the effort to look a little further , to put them selves forward to try a alternative route . To travel and connect with others with a common out look…i think we could call it common sense

As always at corga we try to keep things hands on and this year was no exception, in fact our feed back seems to ask always for more practicals, more doing,  ….so bring it on  …we made lots of progress on the farm,

We marked out and dug a swale across the top of the farm, to slow some winter water, and charge the soil down hill , which will be planted out this Autumn with a mixed coppice woodland .

We made new hugel beds in record time , that are already planted out and growing ,

We took advantage of the water pumping the ram pump to run off another long swale to plant some water loving valuable tree crops , ash and willow.

We also started a natural building project , that although small, holds lots of techniques that can be scaled up to build your own house, from locally available resources .

Site support was also a great success , involving everybody in the daily routines here at corga . Feed back also  confirmed this activity was considered one of the “high lights” of the day, and more time should be allowed for this activity, I find it really interesting ( and encouraging ) that people just  want to do , I think this is a sign of our time , the time for talk is over , after all we can talk while we do.

We can do this in small groups and make a big difference  all over the world. In fact our own local perma-gang group were invaluable in preparing for this years course.

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I would like to put my thanks to all who made it an amazing experience, Peter , Nuno, Andre, Kevin, and of course all the participants, thanks you all so much and I wish you all success and fun in your future permaculture adventures .

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I would like to Finnish with some  words  that peter brought the course to an end with, from a Hopi Elder,  –

A Hopi Elder Speaks-

“You have been telling the people that this is the eleventh hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the hour,. And there are things to be considered ….

Where are you living ?

What are you doing ?

What are your relationships ?

Are you in right relation ?

Where is your water?

Know your garden

It is time to speak your truth

Create your community

Be good to each other

And don’t look outside of yourself for the leader..

Then he classified his hands together , smiled and said “this could be a good time “.

“There is a river flowing now very fast, it is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.

“Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water. And I say see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do , our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

“The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves ! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.”

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for “.

(Attributed ti an unnamed Hopi elder.  Hopi Nation, Oraibi, Arizona )

Pictures sometimes say it all.. so we start with these…

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Many thanks again to all who attended this years pdc, it always feels me with a joy to know that many people are welcoming in to there lives other possibilities of ways of living , people from all backgrounds, countries, beliefs, can come together and agree on some basic common sense ethics and principles to make our life make more sense, compared with the short term thinking model that we have adopted as the main stream, people are waking up to the possibilities that surround us with good common sense design, This year we put even more emphasis on actually “doing” stuff, we put in a swale on the lower part of the land, which with many people moved really fast, and also demonstrated some simple devises that we can use to “shape “ the landscape working with contour . We made “swugel” 6 of 7 running up from the kitchen and planted it out too, ( a swugel has become a word to incorporate a swale and a hugel bed so the land cultivates the water it needs to grow the plants we have placed there ) we also covered making soap, building a ram pump, natural building, bee keeping and animal tractoring, this in a pure sense of permaculture also moves us forward as a project/ farm, and people get to be part of something in progress, thanks again to all who made a difference .Permaculture is about doing with conscious design, to make as many connections as possible between any elements that arise within any situation to make the most of resources available . Some of the design elements of last years course have become part of corga’s existence. Proving that we can always improve, especially if we work together and share information and ideas. This year we can also see some interesting ideas from the final designs for the farm that I am sure will become a reality in the not too distant future…watch this space !

Connections

modern times of worldwide, instant communication and information, has huge pluses and minuses, we can easily be lost in too much information or trivia, side tracked with “so called” entertainment, or have the privilege to have huge amounts of gained knowledge at our hands.

The biggest privilege of this “new” technology to me seems to be connections. Connections between people, organisations, chains of thought, genres.

The power of this connectedness is being massively underestimated and underused.

We have the power to cross reference experiments,trials in novel agricultures as well as traditional,aquaculture, social strategies, and every other component of a new way forward for us as a species and create a calmer manner, and way of life, that many are already involved with

will it be around for ever? Will it be around for ever in its present form? Probably not.

This can be looked at as opportunistic resource , it can be wasted or not even seen, or be taken as a “god send” like finding a library of information just when you needed it, when you are hungry for and in need of info and knowledge.

My good friend Roders called by this week ,he brought with him some plant cuttings that he knew I would love to proper-gate, it was my privilege to have at hand some good books on the subjects of some of the plants, but nothing on others such as goiberry , male walnut, but with an internet search we know we will get so many options from people all over the planet of how to best proper-gate these plants that we will have to refine our search,filter our findings, adjust our search phrase, or rely on “trusted” source of communal input, wikki has become a familiar word for such a resource , it is actually a Hawaiian word meaning “quick” so we don’t have to beat around the bush.

We can also connect , speak, mail,text ,message, leave a comment with people we would like to ask a question, offer some observation, encourage,thank or just like, this is unprecedented in human history. this ability to share information world wide at the flick of a switch “click”

A big part of permaculture is the propagation ,understanding and application of connections between elements.

David Holmgrem wrote in his book Permaculture – principles and pathways beyond sustainability

  • In every aspect of nature, from the internal workings of organisms to whole eco systems, we find connections between things are as important as the things themselves, thus the purpose of a functional and self-regulating design is to place elements in such a way that each serves the needs and accepts the products of the other.

    We can also see this common sense practice in the ancient saying – “give with compassion, receive with joy”

    Holmgrem continues – The connection or relationship between elements of an integrated system can vary greatly, some may be predatory or competitive, others are co-operative, or even symbiotic, all these types of relationships can be beneficial in building a strong integrated system or community, but permaculture strongly emphasise building mutually beneficial and symbiotic relationships, this is based on two beliefs

  • We have a cultural disposition to see and believe in predatory competitive relationships, and discount co-operative and symbiotic in nature and culture

  • co-operative and symbiotic relationships will be more adaptive in a future of declining energy.

    We have at our finger tips the ability to connect with all our fellow human beings through our “inter-web”, and also personally with our local community ,friends and family. Lets use it !

    I believe that without this ability to “get on “and learn to celebrate each others deferences, there is no hope, we need co-operation over competition to be able to move forward to a world that is going to be completely different to the one we have become used to with huge amounts of fossil fuel energy.

    We are teenagers on the great scale of things , faced with having to finally take responsibility for our actions, relationships, and ultimately the connections we make.

The advanced course

GE DIGITAL CAMERA Thanks to everybody who attended, What a great, intense and productive two weeks. We managed to raise a reciprocal roof. (Even though the weather proved unfavorable) GE DIGITAL CAMERA Design and implement a reforestation project with Nuno. We learned new skills with Garri which came in good use through the course. And learned how to work together in a diverse group We had visits from key people from the local council, with great results , Thanks Sofia and Carlos, allowing us to move forward with our permaculture work, with the children at Pedrogao school on a donated piece of unused land , And also making earth moving machinery available to re-design some of the landscape around the points which causes so much of the erosion especially after the fires , we will be able to demonstrate, how redirecting and holding back some of the rain water in a system of swales and planting can drastically slow this soil and water loss. And hi light some of the problems and possible solutions I feel sure everybody, teachers, students, helpers, family, neighbours,friends or what ever other label we wish to call our selves learned an amazing amount about our selves and our possibility’s and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for being you , thanks ! keep up the good work.

Hugel-culture

GE DIGITAL CAMERA Recently I was asked how we are making compost ! The person asking was local to us and was having trouble “getting it going” I can understand why as the summers here can be so hot and dry, and she was also having trouble with black soldier fly , these amazing creatures have the ability to really break down matter fast but seem to consume most the stuff your after ! I explained to her that the answer we have come up with is to cut out the middle man, sequester some carbon and make hugel beds . GE DIGITAL CAMERA This system really creates and compost heap underground, that gets watered when you water, which should only be in the early days ,as the mass of carbon (tree trunks and brush wood). Become a big sponge, and holds the moisture for the plants. This system makes so much sense here, because of the huge amount of “spare” wood that threatens to burn us, forest fires always being a threat through the summer months “the problem is the solution” again. GE DIGITAL CAMERA The hugel bed system was made famous by the Austrian permaculture hill farmer sepp Holzer and involves digging a trench, filling with rooting wood and then covering with upturned turf and soil to make raised bed. We have experimented with different fillings,using big logs of cherry and oak topped with the small twiggy wood, some with mainly rooting pine and we are now trying with eucalyptus Adding compost and manure makes sense if you want to give young plants a good start, but then after this the rotting wood could feed the plants for the next five years! And of course you can always build on and add. For a good source of information see – – http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/ For more info on the work of Sepp Holzer see- – http://www.permaculture.co.uk/videos/visit-sepp-holzers-permaculture-farm Hugel-culture Recently I was asked how we are making compost ! The person asking was local to us and was having trouble “getting it going” I can understand why as the summers here can be so hot and dry, and she was also having trouble with black soldier fly , these amazing creatures have the ability to really break down matter fast but seem to consume most the stuff your after ! I explained to her that the answer we have come up with is to cut out the middle man, sequester some carbon and make hugel beds . This system really creates and compost heap underground, that gets watered when you water, which should only be in the early days ,as the mass of carbon (tree trunks and brush wood). Become a big sponge, and holds the moisture for the plants. This system makes so much sense here, because of the huge amount of “spare” wood that threatens to burn us, forest fires always being a threat through the summer months “the problem is the solution” again. The hugel bed system was made famous by the Austrian permaculture hill farmer sepp Holzer and involves digging a trench, filling with rooting wood and then covering with upturned turf and soil to make raised bed. We have experimented with different fillings,using big logs of cherry and oak topped with the small twiggy wood, some with mainly rooting pine and we are now trying with eucalyptus Adding compost and manure makes sense if you want to give young plants a good start, but then after this the rotting wood could feed the plants for the next five years! And of course you can always build on and add. For a good source of information see – – http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/ For more info on the work of Sepp Holzer see- – http://www.permaculture.co.uk/videos/visit-sepp-holzers-permaculture-farm

Permaculture design course June2013

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A fantastic 16 days of learning , teaching, doing and connecting with each other and nature.

With students from Brazil, Belgium, Germany, England,Spain, Italy and of course Portugal. It was testimony to the fact that one heart is stronger than one tongue.

An amazingly positive, open bunch of folk, who took to all the challenges of grasping the ethics, principles and possibilities of permaculture design in really a short space of time, compared to the huge complexity of the subject, and I feel sure that we would all agree that we are at just a starting point

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I would like to thank all who attended and left a permaculture designer, and to wish them all the best in their endeavours to better our world, our local community , our food systems, our financial systems , our energy understanding, our transport, etc..etc.. the list goes on, and without such aware and committed people we are surely in trouble.

If you really have not thought about this, please ponder on just one small fact (bellow) of many that surround us, then maybe look for others in the list above , then take a permaculture design course to realise that (as Bill Mollison said) although the worlds problems are very complex , the solutions are incredibly simple.

The fact – One bumper issue of the New York times is the end product of 400 hectares of forest!!!!!

Anthony Huxley “Green inheritance”

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A Big thank you to Fernando,Angela their family and friends and also Freecycle for this great collection of goodies for the farm!!

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Here are a few pics of the going ons at Corga in preparation for the up and coming PDC!!

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Ram pump workshop in Ribeira da

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Thanks for all your input guys   !!  

 4 year update

After working for four years on the above subjects, we have had many successes, some failures and have learnt an incredible amount. We have forged links with some amazing and inspirational people, local folk, permaculture designers old and up and coming, volunteers, local government officials, and other local and national projects working on a  “truly” sustainable way of moving forward on our now very delicate planet. We have shared much of our work with interested parties through practical workshops, these include – Mushroom cultivation and identification, brought to us by our now good friend, biologist and designer Pedro Prata, we ate our first shitake mushrooms last summer, yum yum!, Adobe building – brought to us firstly by building the bread oven, taught over two weekends by the “amazing man of energy” (also a good friend) and permaculture designer Nuno Mamede. . Rocket stove technology was first brought to our attention with much enthusiasm by Andy Jordan (we are so lucky to have so many talented friends) who with the help of ourselves and a few volunteers built the first one here two years ago, a mass storage heater for the house, we have gone on to build a cooking version, and are now working on a rocket bath and log steriliser for inoculating mycelium, We are very keen to encourage the rocket stove as it uses the “left over” wood from the tree cutting, so no need to cut trees just for fire wood and many people here are using wood to cook by. Our 12 volt solar system has perform incredibly well, when people visit (sometimes just to see the solar set up) we often hear the phrase “ is that it it’s so small !” people are often sold on a big 30,000 Euro grid tie, that is not always appropriate, behavioural  strategies we find are a lot of the answer, for instance, you don’t need to use electric to boil water! And it makes sense to wash clothes when the sun is shinning! The only failure of the system has been the 1000watt inverter  which we use to run the twin tub washing machine that has been replaced twice (buy a good one) this year we are working on a pedal version. On the plus point the local village has experienced many power cut over the last years and we have had none! The ram pump has been steadily supplying all our water needs for the last 4 years and continues to “tick away” for free.  A result of the workshops on this design has seen dozens of ram pumps pumping water uphill all over the globe. Food production has been an unexpected challenge, as i thought id had this talent ”under my hat” only to be surprised that a lot of the seeds i had developed in England just do not grow here! So a fresh start has been needed using local varieties and new techniques. However we grow more and more each year as we get to understand the terrain and weather patterns. This year we will be starting the worm farm, gas production, and continue our “outreach” programme to spread the word of true sustainability .

     Green wood working                  

Green woodworking was a way we made and built things from trees years ago, before we had power tools, but it is as valid today as it ever was, in fact i believe more so considering the Plight of our forests. This method of working with the wood not only looks beautiful, but has a strength that “cut” wood lacks. Chair bodgers of old took their tools into the woods and made their products there, saving the effort of carting out heavy timber,” it’s easier to carry a chair home” When timber is sized it is usually “split” along the grain, and not cut across it, this is much faster than any power tool and leaves the wood with its strength, It is important to work the wood “green” that is freshly cut as it makes life easier, the bark will give its self up without too much effort, and your tools will last longer between sharpening.    With some basic tools and devices the work becomes pleasant, safe and “noise” free/ Wood cut to length is first “clefted”split, then taken to the shaving horse where it can be easily held while it is shaped with a draw knife, then to the pole lathe if a fine symmetrical finish is required. outside kitchen Working wood like this as we did years ago, and some natives of some countries still do  teaches us how again to live with the trees. A managed coppice woodland support huge amounts of wildlife/biodiversity and many other “yields” such as clean air, water retention, We will be holding green wood workshop, this autumn /winter when the” sap is down” Subjects covered will be

  • Coppice forest management –  identifying trees
  • Cutting and splitting  wood
  • Tools for the job,  froe, draw knifes, chisels,
  • Devises –  saving horse, pole lathe, cleaving brake
  • Making a piece of your choice, to take home
  • Plans to make your own equipment

See – workshops “The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago, the next best time is now”    (chinesse proverb)

Fardening  

When starting this project and then again when starting this web site i was confronted with the question. ..  what is a “Permaculture Farm “ should i even call it that? . A farm in most people’s eyes is a group of large fields producing ceriels, beef, potatoes or some other monoculture crop solely for monetary gain or subsidy using large machinery and lots of fossil fuels. This for us is just about the opposite of what we are working towards. If we were to call it a permaculture garden, it would maybe taken by many to be a small part-time or hobby which would not supply your food, energy, water, income,etc…   Then one day while “Gardening” i realised that we all put things into categories depending on a word. Hence this new word to build an idea around, Fardening              it can be ..

  • A meeting of farming and gardening
  • Medium scale food production
  • A meeting of practices and thinking
  • A non destructive way of producing

Our ,food, fibre, wood, oil, medicine, forest, clean water, energy, honey, wax, , pollen, meat, fish, etc etc We need to grow as much food as possible , and let as much land and sea as possible to be “itself” and evolve without the “helping hand” of man. Our yield need not only be food or monetary based  we can use teaching, in the form of workshops, rental, craft work, holding events, compost, fire wood, forestry , aquaculture and so many other products of the site to create a “right livelihood” the list is as long as your imagination. In gardens people seem to take a little more care over what they are doing, good gardeners place elements within it with thought for the outcome careful not to bring in poisons or create problems for the future. On large scale commercial farms, people usually don’t have the privilege,to tend every square inch of land and are usually fighting against deadlines and bureaucracy maybe not even knowing what destruction they are causing(modern farming still being perhaps the most destructive activity on our planet. So, the best place to start. Right where you are! food can and needs to be grown as close as possible to the “User point” the kitchen” and layered with as many yields as possible, this year we harvested many parasol mushrooms from our garden beds because we didn’t dig this area and the mycelium had chance to “exist”   when you start close to the house we can keep an eye on things, observe and correct anything that is not working, the work doesn’t seem overwhelming when you start small ,work your way out and build on successes . Fardening is possible to be practised anywhere by anyone, even a traveller can take a jar of sprouted seeds for a salad!! People living in villages and towns have the  opportunity to team up with neighbours to create food and other  production areas which can have the advantage of communal care so people can still take breaks, holidays, We will always need “other” services, travel, banking, medical care, and so on but we can all also be “fardeners” and we need to be, in short we need to take responsibility for ourselves, and resources we depend on for our existence,   some people are calling this way of thinking Permaculture, but we could also call it fardening, in the end it doesn’t matter what we call it as long as we do it. “Greater than the travels of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come”                           –   Victor Hugo

Thanks to everyone who attended the mushroom workshop here are some pics of the weekend, we are planning an advanced workshop this coming february / march —–

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AZEITE; (OLIVE OIL) Picking 800 – 1000 kilos of olives is a daunting task for anybody , but this is what we need to supply us with 100 l plus of olive oil to last us until next years harvest. so we need help  .luckily for us we have plenty of people around keen to join in the harvest this year, some volunteers staying at the farm , some local friends, some people that we have recently met that are interested in how the process works   Yes for one person “daunting” , but as a group of interested people, it becomes a very enjoyable activity a time of celebration ,a time when we have the excuse to get together in small groups , to enjoy, company, exchange of ideas and experiences, take time to eat well, sample local peoples wine, cheese, chorizo  and actually pick olives . Some people prefer green lives so pick early, some leave picking until January to get very big black globes. Usually, these days the oil is spun out.  The olives are heated to high temperatures and spun in a centrifuge, with this system you get your 1000kikos processed in 20mins with a result of plenty of clear oil Luckily our local “press” still uses a Column press with string mats and cold presses the same volume over 8 hours   The result is not comparable, it produces thick Green pure olive oil that to some who visit here is heaven in a liquid or something weird because they are used to oil adulterated with seed oils and blended to a clear constant oil; that can be marketed through supermarket chains, We have a handful of producing trees here at Corga da Pereira, but are planting much more for the future ,we also this year have the opportunity  to pick other peoples olives, groves that are being neglected for many different reasons, The people are elderly and unable to tend the trees People who have moved to the towns and cities but want their land looked after People that are not interested in picking the fruit planted by their ancestors because you can now buy it at the supermarket for 2;50 e a litre The olive tree has been around for a long time, fossilised leaves found on the island of Santarem where dated to 37,000 bc   The people of the Mediterranean have had a long connection with olives and their oil, 90% of all olives fringe the Mediterranean basin, where 7 million families grow them for harvest, being in time gone past also the only lighting apart from candles and a open fire! Picking, pressing and tending olives is something that gives a great sense of satisfaction and “right livelihood.” Taste the joy that comes from labour – Longfellow. Brassicas / The cabbage family.   Now’s the time to plant Brassicas! Well all the time is time to plant Brassicas here, in fact you can have cabbage in your horta (vegetable garden) all year round, and it is sort of a staple here in central Portugal. It’s a must in the famous calde verde soup and is used to feed livestock as it is so reliable. It has amazed me moving to this depleted acid soil left be pine mono culture ,where most plantings have been a challenge, cabbage just thrives!  Matthew Briggs brilliant book “complete book of vegetable tells us that” cabbages need a rich, fertile, moisture retentive soil, with a ph of 5.5 – 7.0 and i believe him (generally) Gardeners of old have repeated through the ages “sweeten the soil before you plant brassicas”, meaning adding lime to increase the alkalinity, but here they just grow, the walking stick cabbage that can grow to 3m high and last for 4-5 years (another contradicton, as its said in to be a biannual grown as a annual) is seen under almost every olive plantation. So why do they grow so well where they shouldn’t? People here have saved their own seed for many generations, shareing with their neighbours and making it available on local markets, this has assured local strains that have adapted to local conditions, soil and the summer heat that is also said to be the “enemy” of the brassica. In short they have adapted.  Brassicas of course are not just cabbage but kale, broccolis, kohlrabi, turips,swede, cauliflower,brussel sprout, and have all derived from wild plants originally and selected by man through time, Matthew also mentions that “white cabbages appeared after AD 814 and German literature records the cultivation of red cabbage in 1150, the Romans esteemed them as a “cure for all” and recommended them to prevent unseemly drunkenness!! So we have been collecting  seed from our favourite plants for thousands of years .slowly turning them “or their offspring” into objects of our desire ,selecting them for their traits , flavour, resilience to disease, vigour, colour, size, keeping abilities, I was recently sent some seeds of coriander by a good friend from California that are slow to bolt (slow to go to seed) and they have proved to be worth going, especially in the summer months when a coriander plant will germinate then go straight to seed (fine if your after seed) and maybe why these plants generally do this,they have been selected as a seed crop, so this trait is advantageous .i prefer  the leaf ! Un fortunately big business has a big say now in what varieties still exist being now bred for uniform size over taste so they are easy to package and encouraging hybrid and genetically modified seed. A gardening catalogue from just 40 years ago could boast 50 varieties of pea and now we would be lucky to get 5 .these 45 lost forever, saving seed of our dwindling plant species is one of the most important jobs we now have, and i urge every gardener to do so. In my experience after 3 years of cultivating your own seed you can call it” yours”, you now have a variety/strain that you are happy with and it is happy you and the conditions that you can supply it with. I tried this with a chilli pepper brought back for me by my friend Karen from Brixton market in London .i planted some in the green house and some outside “a risky affair in the English climate for a tender plant! The greenhouse ones did great, really bushy with lots of good size, tasty fruit. Most of the outside ones didn’t come to much, but one showed signs of resilience, and so i selected this plant to collect the seed from, after 3 years i had amazing results of outside growth, so much so that i gave “buckets “away, When i came to Portugal to live and planted these seeds, nothing happened, i mean nothing, and not even would they germinate! I tried over 3 years in different conditions time etc but nothing, adventualy i exhausted my seed supply so all seemed lost until i had a call from a friend looking for a tough outside chilli and found this one on the internet at www,realseeds.com ,it was the one a had sent them way back and had forgotten about, they have developed it further and now it has some success even in whales ! Moral of the story – save and share..

                               solar cooking

Solar ovens have been around for a long time now, and used to great advantage in “3rd” world countries where supply’s of fire wood are scarce, and have become almost a cooking fashion in the “1st” world, portable ones being brought out in the summer when outside living, cooking and eating is more enjoyable, then packed away and forgotten in the winter months. The fact of the matter is that these simple to build devises are incredibly efficient, and can save huge amounts of fossil fuels, cooking gas or electric, and even in the winter months be used to our advantage. In Europe, Portugal has the most solar gain and therefore makes total sense to develop this as much as possible. we have decided to build one into the south facing wall of the kitchen accessible from inside to make sure it get used even on sunny winter days, it has the advantage of all the thermal mass of the stone work Last year we were asked to demonstrate the solar cooker in 3 local schools, we only had an hour and a half in each school in which to explain, build and demonstrate the cooker so we decided to use just cardboard, tin foil and a sheet of clear Perspex, obviously we didn’t have time to cook a full on meal so we simply boiled some water and fried an egg, which is not the ideal thing for a solar oven but it did demonstrate the power of this amazingly simple cooking devise. The day was a great success the children were very excited and some of the cooks at one school asked if they could keep it to cook soup the next day! Brilliant!   

CONSTRUCAO DE FORNO SOLAR
No dia 15 de Junho de 2010, no
ambito do piano de actividades de
sensibilizagao/educagao ambiental e
com ajuda do Nigel e da Julie Green
construlmos um forno solar com os
meninos do pr6-escolar de PedrCgao
Grande, durante a manha e it tarde
com os meninos de Graga e Vila
Facaia.
Nesta actividade tentou-se mostrar
as criangas a importa'ncia da energia
solar enquantoenergia renova"vel.
Com ajuda do sol fervemos a"gua e
estreiamos ovos.
Anterior a esta actividade, no dia 7
de Junho, foi realizada uma acgao de
sensibilizagao que abordava os
conceitos de energias renovaveis e
energias nao renovaveis, energias
limpas e energias poluidoras.
Para al6m destes conceitos as
criangas foram alertadas para a
importancia da poupanga da energia
e a importanda de pequenos gestos
diario que sao uma mais valia para as
poupangas energ6ticas.

APICULTURE.                 Bees arrive.

I’ve personally wanted to keep bees for a long time now. So this week was a great pleasure to receive maybe 60,000 workers, a few drones, and a queen, already housed, with stores of honey, and brood ready to multiply,polonate fruit, nut and veg plants and supply us with honey, wax pollen , propels and royal jelly.  These amazing creatures connect so many elements in the landscape that it’s almost imposable to imagine life without them, well there wouldn’t be any!! Einstein stated that if there were no bees, humanity would cease to exist in 4 years! Bees are disappearing around the world at an alarming rate, Germany has recently banned some pesticides thought to be the problem, some people are blaming mobile phone masts, some the way in which the way we keep them on a commercial scale, Ware or “top bar “hives are becoming more popular, these hives don’t produce as much honey as conventional hives, and it is more difficult to process the honey and associated products but, maybe the bees are more content. We intend to keep a frame hive for a full season and then add a top bar and a traditional Portuguese cork hive so as to observe the pros and cons, as we gain more experience. Luckily for us our good friend Garri wiest, is an experienced bee keeper and has agreed to mentor us for this season, we are also going to to take advantage of his expertise and hold some one day workshops on natural bee keeping during the following years.(see.. workshops).

 Methane;

Another principle of permaculture is “the problem is the solution “with lateral thinking many of so called problems can be turned around, we were recently approached by some good friends with one of these such problems, they  help run a kennels which houses ,feeds and rehouses unwanted and stray dogs,. Over one hundred dogs in one location brings many “problems”, separating the males from the females so as to keep the population down, feeding such an amount of dogs every day ethically,vet bills, shelter, shade, water, and of course the dog “waste”, which seems to be the biggest issue with the people close to the site. Realising that there is no such thing as waste only misplaced recourses the solution became obvious, the dogs “waste “was a plentiful source of “fuel” for creating methane gas , a gas that has been calculated as being 11 times more harmful than co2 when released into the atmosphere! So capturing it and using it to to cook dog food/rice/meat (a luxury that cannot be afforded at the moment) or run freezer to store “fresh” dog food could become a win win situation, using another permaculture principle “start small and build on success” we set out to see how much methane we could produce with the available “fuel” . Having experimented before with chicken poo and being amazed at how simple it was to produce on a small scale and how stable the flame was on a regular camping gas stove we went ahead with a small scale set up, Using a dustbin and a bucket upturned with a tap attached to the bottom “now the top “of the bucket, 20-30 percent of the dust bin was filled with dog fuel and water made up the remanding space, the system relies on anaerobic organisms to break down the mater, release gas and create good compost as an end result. Dog poo alone may not be enough to make good amounts of quality gas, but we certainly have the bulk! A starter may be needed; a bucket full litter from the chicken pen may be beneficial to get the digester running. Watch this space for progress!!. Quote; the most valuable thing in the world is to help someone ask a question.      – Reshad Field. For more info on the kennels progress and how you can help see –  

pt-pt.facebook.com/adopcaodeanimais

New life. Just February but feels like spring, he sun has warmth, chicks are hatching, the first goat has kidded with two healthy “fluff balls” ,and we have just taken delivery of two 7 week old piglets, these guys and their parents have never seen the light of day, so couldn’t believe their luck when we released them into their role as “tractor” from word go they knew their purpose immediately snuffling their snouts into the earth searching for “goodies” We intend to plant behind them and work them towards the woodland for late summer / autumn, so they can benefit from the shade and then the chestnuts and acorns that will be falling. It took us a while to make the decision to keep pigs, but we are eating meat and want to take responsibility for this ,and eat only our own meat, or take a more vegetarian outlook, There would be a lot more vegetarians if everybody had to keep, feed and slaughter their own animals! Its also our chance to plant out as many trees as possible before the rain stops, more olives, chestnuts, oak, hazel, willow. Quote –    The best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago the next best time is now.          –  Chinese proverb    

Corga Diary

Jan 2011

         Big rain.

         Design for disaster.

If possible observing a site for a year’s seasons before implementing a design is a good permaculture principle, it’s not always possible,

But even when you observe for say 3 or 4 years you could still be surprised at what nature can throw at you! , we need to design for “the worse possible case” we need to design for disaster.

A lesson we learned well after this week’s heavy rain.

Huge amounts of water carved channels down to bare bed rock along any vegetated land, the dirt tracks took away countless tons of top soil, leafmater, even rocks bigger than a house brick have been moved long distances downhill. It’s frightening to think of the soil loss in this region “not to mention worldwide” this past week!

For us we must concern ourselves with this parcel of land design wise, so we can make sure

·       Paths follow near contour, mulched

·       All disturbed land gets treed, vegetated quickly

·       To divert and slow flow to swales if needed

Roll on spring Autumn is upon us, the chestnuts are falling and it’s a race to beat the wild boar to this delicious treat, older people of the region tell stories of before potatoes were the staple, and chestnuts filled this role, being dried or smoked to extend their usefulness, chestnuts have a high water content and can be classified closer to a vegetable than a nut, grapes are nearly over for making wine, or juice in our case as we have maringgara grapes which don’t make good wine but excellent juice and if heated to 80 c and bottled will keep all year (if it doesn’t all get drunk) Mushrooms are abundant at the moment, parasols, ink caps,boleteus and many more that we are not yet able to identify, hence the visit from Pedro Prata in late November who is going to run a workshop here  to identify the ones we can eat and also explain how we can all grow mushrooms at home  (see –workshops). We are collecting the last of the wood for the stoves before it becomes too wet to store and desperately trying to finish some roofs before the inevitable torrential rain hits, we are also clearing the swales at the top of the farm to accept the flow of water from the mountain above, the silt and small stone that they gather will go into the next compost toilet to make the cord wood walls, The olives are just starting to turn black and some people are already picking theirs I’ve noticed, obviously preferring green ones .and he local presses will soon start squeezing the liquid gold from them. Another delicious and sometimes overlooked treat of the autumn is rose hip syrup this is easily made (leave some as this is an important winter bird food) and just one kilo of the vibrant red seed pods will yield a few litres of syrup which can be diluted to taste and will supply you with 10 times the amount of vitamin c than you can get from oranges! Autumn also brings the rain and the six month dry period is broken, dusty landscapes suddenly look like “soil “again and a second spring which in Portugal is known as st martinos summer  brings a brilliant show of grasses, plants, and flowers, a good time to plant things that will “overwinter” onions, garlic, broad beans, turnip are just some of the things which will do well planted at this time and will harvest early in summer next year. The waterways that begin to open up are valleys that in times gone by were streams and we can identify areas where we can make ponds, dams and slow, and make use of this now seasonal flow, slowing this energy from source to sink. The ground here will not hold the water unless it has flow, some experiments this year with the clay we are having delivered to build a cob oven and earthen floor in the tipi will see if we can hold water higher in the landscape than we are already, even seasonal ponds have their merits, frogs use such pools as they know there will be no fish to eat their young! Today’s quote; Live as though you’re going to die tomorrow, farm as though you’re going to live forever.

Frost

Late November and the first frost hits, putting an end to all our summer foods, although we have pulled up sweet and chilli peppers to “overwinter” inside, they are actually perennials which people usually grow as annuals out of the tropics, but will die as soon as the first frost hits, put out again in spring will give us an early Sumer crop. Our efforts now are turned to winter activities, picking olives; our local press is now up and running at full steam! Producing bucket loads of cold pressed green gold ,cutting and storing fire wood, planting trees, draft proofing the buildings and this week making a rocket mass heater and a cob bread oven,(see workshops /projects) which involves making bricks, too cold now to mix bare foot so” Wellies” are called for, A mixture of local clay, straw, and various other mixes including sand, silt collected from the swales have been formed to see the results for future builds. Mixed by foot on a plastic sheet rolled and mixed again until the right consistency has been reached, it is then put into wooden moulds to form the required shape and then lay to set to wait for the building day ! Can’t wait for fresh bread and pizza days!! Quote for the day – Infinite patience produces immediate results

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